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Ailing artist makes one last outing

Posted July. 31, 2000 20:30,   


Unbo Kim Ki-Chang, 88, who has been chronically ill for the past five years, attended a commemorative exhibition being held in his honor at Gallery Hyundai despite being wheelchair-bound. Friends and lovers of his art applauded the dramatic appearance of the artist. Camera lights flashed constantly to mark his entrance.

Ever since he was struck with cerebral cirrhosis in May 1996, during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Huso Association, which sponsors his work, Unbo had been kept from making any public appearances by his team of doctors. He didn`t attend the opening of this latest exhibition, which was launched early this month. On July 14, he was confined to the Samsung Seoul Hospital as his condition worsened. He attempted to attend the special exhibition on July 19, but was barred from doing so by his medics.

But yesterday at 11:40 a.m., Unbo arrived, transported by ambulance, at the gallery located in Chongno, downtown Seoul.

Sporting a jade-colored summer hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, a beret and his trademark rubber slippers with red socks, he looked at each of his works with deep-felt emotion. His eyes reddened from time to time. He also came close to tears when watching videos of himself as a healthy man. He caused a few onlookers to shed tears when he looked longingly at the painting "Hong Mae (Red plum blossom)" by his brother Kim Ki-Man. Kim Ki-Man is a leading North Korean artist who lives and works out of the North.

Unbo was accompanied by 100 of his ardent followers, who seemed overwhelmed by the appearance of one of the greatest artists in the nation. He did not forget to return their appreciation, taking the time to pose for pictures with them.

After touring the exhibition for 30 minutes, he gave two thumbs up to Gallery Hyundai`s Park Myong-Ja and his protege, Prof. Sim Kyung-Ja of Sejong University. He also expressed his deep appreciation for their efforts, using sign language to tell them he was very happy with their work.

Onlookers, fans and the press hailed what might well be Unbo`s last appearance with thundering applause.

Oh Myung-Chul oscar@donga.com